From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia
By Swami Harshananda
Pañcasanskāras literally means ‘five rites of reformation’.
The devotees can generally be divided into three broad groups:
- The śaivas - worshipers of Śiva and allied deities like Gaṇapati and Subrahmaṇya
- The śāktas - worshipers of the Mother-goddess
- The vaiṣṇavas - worshipers of Viṣṇu and his various aspects
Classification of Vaiṣṇava Followers
Among the brāhmaṇa followers of Vaiṣṇavism, there are two prominent groups:
- The śrīvaiṣṇavas - They are the followers of Rāmānuja.
- The vaiṣṇavas - They are the followers of Madhva.
Every śrīvaiṣṇava is expected to undergo five purification sacraments known as the pañcasanskāras. These help him to become fit enough to worship God. They are:
- Tāpa - Tāpa is also called ‘taptamudrā-dhāraṇa’. It is branding one’s arms with the marks of śaṅkha and cakra, the two important symbols of Lord Viṣṇu. The permanent marks left on the body can constantly remind him that he now belongs to Lord Viṣṇu.
- Puṇḍra - Puṇḍra is the religious mark one U-line in white clay with a red line of vermilion or turmeric powder in between. This gives him a sense of belonging to the Śrīvaiṣṇava sect and also reminds him about the spiritual disciplines he has to follow, since this mark represents the three famous nāḍīs namely iḍā, piṅgalā and suṣumnā as described in the treatises on yoga.
- Nāma - Nāma is the acceptance of a new name for himself such as Kṛṣṇadāsa or Viṣṇudāsa, that signifies the beginning of a new life as the servant of God.
- Mantra - Mantra is receiving through spiritual initiation from a qualified guru, a well- known name of God or formula like the aṣṭākṣarī, for japa and upāsanā.
- Yāga - After these four requirements are fulfilled, the sādhaka or the spiritual aspirant is expected to perform all his duties in a spirit of sacrifice and as a worship of God. He should strictly avoid all actions forbidden by the scriptures. This is called ‘yāga’.
A person becomes a true śrivaiṣṇava only after undergoing these pañcasanskāras.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore